Posts Tagged ‘hamsters’

CareFRESH Blog!

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

I am SO excited about my newest writing project!  I have been working with CareFRESH for a little over a year, and the team decided to start a blog on the website.  I love it!

Lavender CareFRESH bedding complimented Fuzzy and Wuzzy’s gorgeous skin the best of all the colors…

With this project, I will be less able to just go with my random kicks, and need to focus on themes and schedules and such much more than I do here on Riley and James, which, honestly, will be very good for me!

I am fairly disciplined, but (I have only ever told Russ this, and just very recently…) a large part of my discipline is extrinsic.  For example, I love having a made bed every morning, but if FLYLady did not tell me to make my bed, I probably would not!  I love being a veterinarian, but if I had not had the structure of veterinary school, I would not have learned all that I have.

And I love writing about environmental enrichment of <hamsters>, but if I were not led to write about it, I probably would not!

I will write somewhat shorter posts than what I normally write here, focus on small pets – rats, guinea pigs, hamsters, gerbils, mice, rabbits and ferrets – and send the team every single picture I have of Fuzzy, Wuzzy, Princess and Piggy!  Feel free to send cute pictures of your Warm Fuzzies too!

Wuzzy in her Classroom in a Box

I will let you know where on the CareFRESH website the blog is as soon as I know.  It will probably attract a similar crowd to the Ask-a-Vet part of the CareFRESH website (kids and adults who are in love with small pets – two of my very favorite subsets of humanity!)  It will be an interactive blog, which will be very fun.  I hope you will come join me as often as you can!

For now, will you help me come up with topics? Do you have questions that would be best answered in a longer post than the Q & A of Ask-a-Vet?  Are there things about your own favorite small pet species that you think everyone should know, but may not yet?  THIS is going to be fun, people! :)

Princess Gerbil



Laboratory Animals are Exotic Pets on a Different Life Path

Monday, May 16th, 2011

I have spent the afternoon researching small pet (rabbit and rodent) nutrition in my constant, obsessive quest to be a better veterinarian for my patients and veterinary resource for CareFRESH.  Much of my reading today has circled back to laboratory animal nutrition resources.  That is weighing heavily on me.  It is difficult to read about research subjects when my frame of reference in Real Life centers around my own pets and the rodent patients who come in for individual, loving veterinary care, often in the hands of a child.

In college I worked with the best teacher I have ever had, Dr. Merlyn Nielsen, a Professor of Animal Science at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.  His research interest at the time was primarily the heritability of obesity in mice.  I loved helping Dr. Nielsen with his research and spending time with his super cute little white mice.

I did data collection and analysis pertaining to fat percentages of purposely bred thinner and heavier genetic lines of mice – all survival studies, because Dr. Nielsen knew from the start I was a wimp and would cry if I were asked to do terminal studies.  (A story for another day – CPR on a laboratory mouse was my first rodent CPR attempt, not CPR on our baby ratties.)

See full size image

It took me thirty minutes to find a plain ol’ white lab mouse picture to contrast with the pet hamster picture, and I still think this guy is super cute!

Fast-forward to senior year of vet school.  I was finishing a well-rounded Midwestern veterinary education covering cattle, horses, pigs, cats and dogs, and realized no one had said “mice” to me in four years.  So I headed down to the Lab Animal corner of the veterinary school and Dr. Lab Animal created an exotic pet rotation for me.  We threw in a couple goat cases for fun.  Again, a surprisingly wonderful experience.  And again, I was shielded from terminal studies.

Fast-forward um…many…years, and I LOVE my career as a small animal vet.  I started in Littleton where lots of vets saw exotics, and ended up in Omaha, where I often get “You’ll see my hamster??  Woo!  I will be right there!” which is almost more fun.  Yeah, exotic pet loving vets are here, and they are awesome, but they are few and far between.  I get quite a few referals from vets who only see dogs and cats and even from mixed animal practitioners (vets who see pets and large animals).  Imagine the courage it takes a pet owner to ask that guy for a hamster referral!

Most of what I have learned has been from exotic pet veterinary books, experience, continuing education and other veterinarians with an interest in exotic pets.  Every once in a while I will wonder…

What if laboratory animal researchers and veterinarians who like exotic pets communicated?

We don’t.  We have entirely different goals and focuses.  Pet practitioners are sad around research.  It is difficult to wrap our heads around.  Animals educated us so we could help other animals.  We got through it and do not want to look back.


Both of my experiences working with lab animals were very positive.  Both leaders who taught me were kind-hearted, compassionate people who cared very much for the animals they oversaw.

And SO MUCH research has been done over the years on animal health and nutrition and longevity.  It has mainly been done to benefit people.

Thank you researchers.  Thank you animals.

What if the knowledge from that research were also used to help pets?  I joke that we should have more medical knowledge about guinea pigs than any other species, because they are…guinea pigs.  But do we?  And if so, is it all being accessed to its fullest potential?

I think I have been ignoring a huge resource to the detriment of the patients under my care.  I do not have a conclusion for this post because I do not know how it ends.

When I figure out how to bridge the gap between the caretakers of the animals of the research world and the caretakers of the animals of the exotic pet world, I will share with you what I learn.  This is just one tip of the lab animal iceberg, which, for me, is a very emotional topic.  Chime in – I would love to hear your perspective.

Sometimes the most emotionally exhausting journeys are also the most rewarding.

Ham-Rabbit and Friends

Friday, December 31st, 2010

This week, Ham-Rabbit reappeared, became more colorful and obtained all sorts of new friends.  Finally!  An answer to the question everyone has always asked:

“How do I make a costume for my hamster that is both cute and comfortable?”

The answer to the question

(as is true of many of life’s biggest queries)





The Very Scary Ham-Lion – “RAWR!”

Hamster Head Shark

Hamster Peacock

And perhaps my favorite of all…


If you send me hamster pictures, I will post them!  If you send me hamster costume ideas, I will meet with Hamlet and Sparks and their boys and see what we can do.  Then we will post those pictures too!

May your 2011 be fun and colorful and overflowing with friends, family and soft, cute pets.  And may those three categories overlap in every possible way.

Happy New Year!


Thank you to my two favorite hamsters in the whole world, Hamlet and Sparks.  And thank you to Hamlet and Sparks’ boys, and Hamlet and Sparks’ boys’ brother and Hamlet and Sparks’ boys’ and Hamlet and Sparks’ boys’ brother’s cousins.

You are my very favorite big kids in the whole wide world.


Monday, December 27th, 2010

A few years ago, I was bringing a Robo hamster back to her family after her veterinary visit.  Her cute little round face was peeking out from my closed fist.  I had a Sharpie in my lab coat pocket.  If you know me or have been around the Riley and James website, you probably know where this is going…I drew bunny ears and whiskers on the hand I had around the hamster, and Ham-Rabbit (named by the beautiful and talented Pet Nurse Erika Workman) was born.  SO cute!  The hamster was returned to her family without incident.

However, the next day when I handed the next client’s hamster back, she immediately asked, “Why do you have Sharpie on your hand?”  Wouldn’t you think her first question would be “Is my hamster going to be ok?” or “What medication do I need to give her?” or something like that?  No…she zeroed right in on my sharpied hand!  Some people are just obsessed with Sharpies.

Knowing she would either think it was as hilarious as I did, or completely unprofessional, like most grown-up clients (and doctors) probably should, I sheepishly asked to hold her hamster again, then hopped my hand towards her with her little hamster in it.  She could not stop laughing to say good-bye and was still giggling as she checked out.  *PHEW*

As we were driving home after visiting our family in Ohio last month, Russ said (after miles and miles of silence), “You know what would be REALLY cute?  Hamosaurus!”

We came up with all sorts of awesome hamster costume ideas that night, and this week we finally had Sharpies and hamsters and nephews who could give us permission all in one place at one time.  So now, I am proud to announce…

Ham-Rabbit.  And friends.

Coming to Riley and James New Year’s Eve.

You will love them.

Blogathon 2010 – Hamster Tips (and Costumes)

Sunday, November 14th, 2010

Talking about turtles was fun!  Yes, I am loopy-tired.  Maybe that is a good state to be in when I need fun topics to post!

cheapest generic levitra

 On that note…


When a hamster comes in with a crying kid, it can throw your whole day off.  Well, no more!

How to weigh a hamster, gerbil, mouse, rat, budgie or anole (I am sure I forgot someone, but one of these two ways should work with almost all of the small guys.)

(1)  If the patient may dart off or fly away, weigh them in a small paper bag with the top folded over.

(2)  If the patient promises to behave and stay put, weigh them in a doggy dish.

How to handle a hamster:

Do not wake him up!  Hamsters are not morning people!  If he is awake, quickly pick him up by his scruff.  You will need to grab a much larger amount of skin than you would expect.  You will not hurt him, but you may anger him!  So make sure to apologize and give him a treat when you are done.

How to make a bunny costume for a hamster without angering him: Draw bunny ears and whiskers on your hand with a Sharpie.  Pick the hamster up in a loose fist.  Take a picture because he will look even cuter than he does when he is NOT in costume.  I love this “tip” almost more than I love the turtle weighing tip.  *Safety note:  This works best with happy hamsters.

How to handle a gerbil: Stop or steady him by grabbing the base of his tail (but do not pick him up by the tail).  Place a hand under him and scoop him up.

How to handle a rat: Pick him up under the armpits and then steady his bottom (exactly like you would pick up a very small, very strange looking baby)  Rats do not need excess restraint, as they are usually quite agreeable to whatever you need to do.  I have only ever met one crabby rat, and I suspect he was actually just feeling sick, not actually crabby in Real Life.

Baby Fuzzy and Baby Wuzzy playing in the Lincon Log house my daughters made for them – they loved it!

How to handle a mousie: Pick him up by the base of the tail (This is one of the few little guys whose weight can be supported this way-but just for the few seconds it takes to nab him.)  Place him on your sleeve for the examination while continuing to hold the base of the tail.

How to handle a bird: When you are learning how to restrain a bird, start with the smaller birds who cannot chomp you as hard.  The technique is the same for all of them though!  Once you are comfortable with budgies, move on to macaws!

Examining and working with birds is ALWAYS a two person job!  Have the bird on a finger or your arm, with your thumb gently holding their four front toes down.  With a light towel in your hand, gently place your thumb and forefinger of your other hand in a ring around his neck from the dorsal side.  The palm of the same hand will be over his back.  Close your hand around his back and wings, being careful not to compress the chest.  Slowly turn him upside down.  Everyone is now in a position to safely examine and work with the bird.

Easy for me to say!  Actually the best way to learn how to restrain a bird is to make sure one of the two people involved is experienced at avian restraint.  Restraining birds has been like a skill chain through Omaha veterinary teams until all of us who want to work with birds are now able to safely hold them!  I even have trained teams at Montessori Children’s Room and Lakeside Retirement VIllage, so whenever I go see their cockatiels, I have plenty of helpers!  (Thanks Mom and Mom-Karen!)

Pedro, The Lakeside Village Cockatiel


Clicking here will bring you to the webpage with information about Bradyn and an opportunity to donate towards the training of his service dog from 4 Paws for Ability. ♥

Houdini Was…

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

In the midst of reading the 25 leadership books recommended by Veterinary Economics, I snuck in this super awesome book that I HAVE to tell you about because I LOVE it.

Houdini Was…

Written and illustrated


the Second Grade Students of White Bluffs Elementary in Richland, Washington

I bought the book because of the very cute hamster on the cover.  (I judge books by their cover, which you should not do, and though I can usually tell at first glance whether I will like a book or not, my reasoning is not always quite…linear.)

This book covers in impressive depth the human-animal bond, pet loss, processing grief, the value of pets, lessons to be learned from our relationships with our pets and even the value a classroom pet adds to the educational experience*.  What impresses me is that all of this is done so poinently and concisely…by second graders…mostly by crayon.  I love the pictures.  I love the humor.  I love seeing Houdini hamster through the eyes of those who knew and loved her.  It almost makes me want to treat my Fuzzy-loss with a hamster…



…but I won’t.


Houdini Was…

Five Stars!


This book won the 2010 Scholastic “Kids Are Authors” contest and is available at all the Scholastic Book Fairs going on now!  I got it tonight during Parent-Teacher conferences :)

*Click here for information on “Pets in the Classroom”, a very fun CareFRESH grant program that assists with the adoption and care of small pets in the classroom.


For The Love Of Hamsters

Saturday, September 1st, 2007

I would like to let you know my position on hamster-worth.   With this information, you will be equipped to decide if you would like a normal, sane vet, or a vet like me.   Unfortunately for those of you who would prefer a sane vet, you will probably only succeed in finding one who hides their hamster love better than I, not one with a rational, logical approach to the monetary value of a hamster. Very rarely, I run into a client who, when faced with a hamster treatment plan, says, “But this thing only cost me three bucks!”   It happens with all pets, but seems to happen more often with the pocket pets.   As a comedian once said about treating a sick hamster, “I wouldn’t pay to have my disposable lighter fixed!”

Since it is so infrequent, I suspect that many of you are as insane as I am.  If your hamster is sick, and if you have the means to treat her, you bring her to me as if she is a tiny little dog and say, “I know it’s crazy, but do whatever she needs.”   I would contend that some sorts of crazy are good.

My client list is as full of people who are as crazy as you and I, the good kind of crazy.   And if you happen to be a sane person reading this, you now have been warned, and have the opportunity to find a rational, level-headed veterinarian.  But you might as well read the stories.   They are kind of fun.

Recently, I had a baby Robo hamster as a patient.   Herbie had just been snatched from the mouth of a cat and rushed to us.   Her little hamster exam was normal except for a large tear in her skin where her scruff should be.   Unfortunately, that is the handle of a hamster, and it was missing.  She was a very sweet little hamster, but a bit of a pinball.   As my receptionist Rhonda and I played the part of pinball paddles to keep her from jumping off the treatment table, Rhonda, following my shouted directions, (I’m not sure why I was shouting—she wasn’t a particularly loud hamster) aimed the surgical glue at Herbie and dripped a drop of glue right on a wound edge.   I took the half-second window of frozen hamster confusion to pinch the wound edges together, before Herbie started pinballing again.

I scooped her up to return the repaired hamster to her owner, when I realized her cute little round face fit perfectly in my closed fist, and she was now calm.  In my defense, it was the end of a long day, and I have already told you that I am insane.  I grabbed a Sharpie and drew little bunny ears and whiskers on my fist.  If you have a friendly hamster, you have to try this!

Anyway, I had not warned the client I was insane, so I switched her pet to my other hand, switched my face to serious doctor, put my Sharpie hand in my pocket and returned her very small hamster to her with her very small hamster medicine.

The first veterinary hospital this client called would not see hamsters.   Now look at what a great case they missed!

Another recent hamster case involved a hamster who did not even have an owner yet.   I include her in my hamster stories because I think pets have inherent worth, not just worth because we project it onto them.

I was filling in at a different Banfield inside of a different Petsmart.   I give you this background only to say, this Petsmart team is not used to my insanity.   And I am used to Petsmart team members at my home Banfield perhaps rolling their eyes and saying “What’s this going to cost me?” but still handing over the hamster.

Anyways, I had been presented with a hamster who was, to use one of my favorite medical terms, a sickie.   After my hamster exam, I handed the little white fluff back to the Petsmart team member and said, “She is going to need surgery.”  She said, as any sane person would, “It’s a hamster.”   I said, “I know. She needs surgery.”

Well, she did have surgery.   All of the supplies were donated by that Banfield’s regular doctor, and I donated the surgery itself, and she was adopted by a different Petsmart employee at that store, a crazy one.   What sane person would adopt a sickie and put herself through the heartbreak of losing her very soon after?   I have a lot of respect for that second employee, and would have set myself up for the same heartbreak, if there had not already been a waiting list to adopt the hamster.

I had a hamster patient with a severe open femoral fracture who needed his leg amputated.  He is doing great a year later.  I saw a hamster recently with the same history.  He was running on his wheel and started limping.  I had flashbacks to Amputation Hamster, but on examination, Joe had just injured a muscle and needed bed rest.   I say that part, then the owners figure out how to talk the hamster into bed rest.   They must have figured out how to explain it to Joe, because he also is doing well.

Those are some of my best hamster stories.  Now hopefully you know if you and I are a good client-doctor match.   I will not be offended if you sneak off, keeping a wary eye on me the whole time.   But I will be happier if you think, “If she cares that much about these little fluffs, she will probably understand why my dog is so important to me and take my concerns and the sanctity of our human-animal bond seriously.”   But not as happy as I was when drew the bunny ears on the hamster and hopped her around my desk.

Some Numbers and Statistics

Thursday, March 1st, 2007

Age children should be before they own a reptile: 6.

Age children should be before they have primary care of a pet: 12.

Age children should be before the family owns a pet prone to aggression: 18.

Age I was married: 24.

Age I had my second child: 30.


Favorite dog name: Joey Cupcake.

Favorite cat name: Mr. Narwhal.

Favorite rabbit name: Junie B. Jones.

Suggestion for their new bunny’s name: Judy Moody.

Dogs or cats: both.

Being a vet or being a Mom: being a Mom.

Crabby owners or crabby pets: crabby pets.

Treating or preventing: preventing.

Hamsters or pit bulls: pit bulls.

Dogs I have disliked: 0.

Cats I have disliked: 0.

Number of years I have been a vet: 8.75.

Number of years I have been a mom: 7, including gestation.

Number of crabby owners I have had to deal with lately: 1.

Number of crabby pets: 10 maybe? But if you have read “Will Benji be there?” you understand why it was not their fault!

Primary guideline for scheduling appointments: No crabby owners, crabby pets are just fine.

Coworkers who stand by that with me because it makes work very fun: 5 of 5.

Coworkers on my list of favorite people: 5.

Percent of pets who come in for prevention-related reasons: 90.

Percent of pets who come in for treatment of disease: 10.

Hamsters who have bitten me: 3.

Percent of hamsters who have considered biting to thank me for their great care: 98.

Pit bulls who have bitten me, or even tried: 0.

How these statistics, excluding the hamster bites, make me feel: happy.

Average lifespan of a dog: 12 years.

Oldest dog I have known: 17.  Breed: Poodle.

Average number of years that are added to a dog’s life when fed properly: 2.

Average lifespan of an indoor cat: 13 years.

Average lifespan of an outdoor cat: 3 years.

Oldest cat I have known: 21.

Breed: Siamese.

Indoor or outdoor: Outdoor.

Average lifespan of a betta fish: 1 year.

Age of our betta: 3.

Secret of Fish’s youthful beauty: oxygen.

Most common cause of death in pocket pets and exotics: improper diet or housing.

Amount of Internet information on pet care that is accurate: 50%, I would guess. But I still maintain that it is a great place to start.

#1 cause of death in cats and dogs: euthanasia due to behavior issues.

#2: euthanasia due to overpopulation.

Most common signalment of a dog with cancer: senior patient who has had excellent care and grown old enough to develop cancer.

Most common issue owners who have pets with cancer deal with: guilt.

Stages of grief owners go through at the loss of a pet: 5.

Percent of dogs and cats over 2 with dental disease: 80.

Frequency of dental cleaning recommended for average adult pet: once a year.

Average lifespan of guinea pigs: 5.

Age of Piggy: 3.

Most common vitamin deficiency in guinea pigs: C.

Animals that do not make vitamin C: Primates and guinea pigs.

Amount of vitamin C in Piggy’s daily supplement: 25 mg.

Number of guinea pig diets with adequate vitamin C: 0.

Number of guinea pig liquid supplements with adequate vitamin C: 0.

Diseases Piggy has had: 2.

Diseases related to vitamin C deficiency: 0.

Most common vitamin deficiency in birds: A. Most common vitamin deficiency in reptiles: D.

More favorites…

Favorite rodents for children: rats and guinea pigs.

Favorite rats from children’s literature: Nicodemus and Templeton.

Favorite mice from children’s literature: Mrs. Frisby, Herman the Great and Ralph.

Number of favorite dog breeds I have: 23.

Number of least favorite dog breeds I have: 2.

Number of breeds I have mixed feelings about: 4.

Favorite canine from children’s literature: Carl.

Other favorites: Ann and Dan.

Number of favorite cat breeds: 1.

Number of least favorite cat breeds: 0.

Favorite feline from children’s literature: Socks.